University of Wisconsin-River Falls

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Oct. 15, 2004

Synergy Conference Focuses on Issues Facing the Region

The 2nd annual Synergy Conference Sept. 15-16 in Hudson identified several initiatives to address issues and challenges facing the region.

Organized by the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, the conference brought together approximately 160 attendees from various organizations throughout the western Wisconsin to the Phipps Center for the Arts in Hudson.

Participants gained insight into issues critical to the region including health care, digital communication, quality of life in a rural-urban transition, and workforce development.

After welcoming conference participants, UW-River Falls Interim Chancellor Virgil Nylander introduced Steve Gunderson, the conference moderator and keynote speaker on workforce issues. Lorna Michael Butler, a professor in the departments of anthropology and sociology at Iowa State University, was the keynote speaker addressing the issue of quality of life and rural-urban transitions.

UW-Eau Claire Chancellor Donald J. Mash introduced Daniel Mclauglin, Center for Health and Medical Affairs, as the keynote speaker for health care issues, and UW-Stout Provost Robert Sedlak introduced David P. McClure, president and CEO of the U.S. Internet Industry Association, keynote speaker for the digital divide session.

To culminate the first day’s activities, participants were treated to the "Tastes of the Valleys" event, where participants sampled regional refreshments provided by 17 area agriculture producers, restaurants, and hospitality providers from the Chippewa and St. Croix valleys.

On the second day of the conference, work group sessions identified action plans in each of the four areas that the conference addressed. The health care workgroup identified several initiatives including establishing a dialogue between businesses, health plan administrators and health care providers; creating a survey to learn more about consumer behavior, and providing assistance, including awareness campaigns, for current public health initiatives in the region.

Action plans for quality of life issues identified included identifying model communities that are proactively addressing such issues and challenges as well as those communities who are struggling with concerns about quality issues. In addition, the group plans a session on comprehensive and smart-growth planning for next year's Synergy conference. A long-term goal includes identifying resources and best practices for communities to address specific quality of life needs.

Participants examining the digital divide issue discussed gathering reports from technology coordinators in the nine-county Synergy region through PK-16 Consortium to provide an overview of the region. In addition, UW-Stout Professor Steve Schlough and his graduate class will assess broadband needs such as where it is, where it isn't and what consumers are willing to pay for the service. The workgroup also proposed a regional Broadband Conference, joining local government, health care, education, business and telecommunications organizations.

Finally, the workgroup session for workforce issues identified potential solutions for long-term labor shortages, marketing of services to diverse populations, and fragmentation of services and partners. Cooperative partnerships such as a Center for Workforce Diversity and creation of a regional identity to attract job seekers were outlined.

At the end of the conference, UW System President Kevin Reilly presented awards to area organizations and business for their innovative practices. These included: Barron (Wis.) Medical Center—Human Potential Development Award; Momentum Chippewa Valley in Eau Claire, Wis.—Quality of Place Enhancement Award; Science and Technology Accelerator Corp. in River Falls—Knowledge and Idea Research and Development Award; DCS Netlink in Rice Lake, Wis.—Physical Infrastructure Enhancement Award; and the St. Croix Valley Angel Network—Finance and Capital Development Award.

For additional information on conference outcomes and the date of next year's conference, visit


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